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THE FIRST THANKSGIVING DAY
(Speech of John Winslow, in the capacity of presiding officer, at the eighth annual dinner of the New England Society in the City of Brooklyn, December 21, 1887.)
GENTLEMEN OF THE NEW ENGLAND SOCIETY OF THE CITY OF BROOKLYN, GUESTS AND FRIENDS:This is the eighth anniversary of our Society and the two hundred and sixty-seventh of the landing of the Pilgrim Fathers. It will please you all to learn of the continued growth and prosperity of our Society. There is in our treasury the sum of $14,506.21, and we have no debts. [Applause.) This shows an increase of $1,266.26 over last year. As occasion requires this money is used for charitable purposes and in other useful ways, as provided by our by-laws. Such a gathering as we have here to-night is an inspiration. It must be especially so to the distinguished gentlemen, our guests, who will address you. So it comes to pass that you are to have to-night the advantage of listening to inspired men—an advantage not uncommon in the days of the prophets, but rare in our times. (Laughter and applause.] It is proper and agreeable to us all just here and now to recognize as with us our friend and benefactor and president emeritus, the Hon. Benjamin D. Silliman. [A voice: “Three cheers for that grand old man.” The company rising gave rousing cheers.) He is with us with a young heart and a cheerful mind, and continues to be what he has been from the beginning-a loyal and devoted friend of our Society. [Applause.)
We are here this evening enjoying the sufferings of our Pilgrim Fathers. [Merriment.] Their heroic work takes in Plymouth Rock, ours takes in the Saddle Rock. They enjoyed game of their own shooting, we enjoy game of other's shooting; they drank cold water, because they could no longer get Holland beer. The fact that they must give up Dutch beer was one of the considerations (so we are told by one of their Governors) that made them loath to leave Leyden. (Laughter.) We drink cold water because we want it and like it. The Pilgrim Fathers went to church armed with muskets; we go to church with our minds stuffed and demoralized by the contents of Sunday morning newspapers. [Laughter.] The Pilgrim mothers went to church dressed in simple attire, because they could afford nothing elaborate and because they thought they could better catch and hold the devotional spirit. The Pilgrim mothers of our day go to church with costly toilets, because they can afford it, and are quite willing to take the chances as to catching and holding the aforesaid spirit. (Laughter.] The Pilgrim Fathers, when they made the compact on the Mayflower, planted the seeds of constitutional freedom; we, their worthy sons, commemorate their work; try to perpetuate it and enjoy the fruits thereof.
It is sometimes said the Pilgrims were a solemn people; that they were not cheerful. Well, in their severe experience in England and Holland and at Plymouth, there was much to make a born optimist grave and thoughtful. But it is a mistake to suppose that they could not rejoice with those who rejoiced as well as weep with those who wept. Take, for instance, the first Thanksgiving festival held by the Pilgrims. The quaint account of this by one of their Governors is always interesting. This first American Thanksgiving took place at Plymouth in 1621, only about ten months after the landing. It was like a Jewish festival, continuing out of doors for a week. The Pilgrim writer, Governor Winslow, describes it thus: “Our harvest being gotten in, our Governor (meaning Governor Bradford) sent four men out fowling, so that we might, after a special manner (meaning doubtless a gay and festive manner) rejoice together after (not counting chickens before they were hatched) we had gathered the fruit of our labors.” Now, listen to this: “They killed in one day so much fowl as, with a little help beside, served the company almost a week."
What this "little help beside was, is not stated. In our day it would mean that the hunter and the fisherman made heavy drafts upon Fulton Market for meat, fowl, and fish, to supply what was short. At which time,” says the writer, among other recreations, we exercised our arms —this probably means they shot at a mark [laughter),
many of the Indians coming among us”-they were not the mark, at least this time—" and among the rest, their greatest king, Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted.” Think of that; feasting ninety Indians three days, and the whole colony besides. What New England Society has ever made so good a showing of hospitality and good cheer? (Laughter.) “And they” (the ninety Indians), “ went out and killed five deer.”
Now, I submit, we have here a clear case of the application of the great principle of honest, even-handed co-operation, no modern device in that line could surpass it. It is true the Indians were not an incorporated society, and so there was no receiver appointed to wind them up. [Laughter.] “ Which they brought,” says the writer, “ to the plantation and bestowed on our Governor” (meaning Governor Bradford), our captain, and others." Governor Bradford, in speaking of this, tells us that among the fowl brought in
was a great store of turkeys.” Thus begins the sad history in this country of the rise and annual fall on Thanksgiving days of that exalted biped—the American turkey. After this description of a Pilgrim festival day who shall ever again say the Pilgrims could not be merry if they had half a chance to be so. Why, if the Harvard and Yale football teams had been on hand with their great national game of banging each others' eyes and breaking bones promiscuously, they could not have added to the spirit of the day though they might to its variety of pastime. [Laughter.]
It is interesting to remember in this connection that in the earlier years of the colonies, Thanksgiving day did not come every year. It came at various periods of the year from May to December, and the intervals between them sometimes four or five years, gradually shortened and then finally settled into an annual festival on the last Thursday of November. A few years ago two Governors of Maine
ventured to appoint a day in December for Thanksgiving. Neither of them was re-elected. [Laughter.] The crowning step in this development, which is now national, was when the fortunes of our late war were in favor of the Union, and a proclamation for a national Thanksgiving was issued by our then President, dear old Abraham Lincoln. (Applause.] That the festival shall hereafter and forever be national is a part of our unwritten law. [Applause.] It will thus be seen that we, the sons of the Pilgrims, may fairly and modestly claim that this feature of our national life, like most of the others that are valuable, proceeded directly from Plymouth Rock. The New England Society in the City of Brooklyn, will ever honor the work and the memory of the fathers. As in the sweet lines of Bryant:
“ Till where the sun, with softer fires,
Looks on the vast Pacific's sleep,
This hallowed day, like us, shall keep."
TRIBUTE TO JOHN GILBERT
(Speech of William Winter at a dinner given by the Lotos Club, New York City, November 30, 1878, to John Gilbert, in honor of the fiftieth anniversary of his first appearance on the stage. Whitelaw Reid presided. William Winter responded to the toast The Dramatic Critic.")
MR. PRESIDENT AND GENTLEMEN:- I thank you very gratefully for this kind welcome, and I think it a privilege to be allowed to take part in a festival so delightful as this, and join with you in paying respect to a name so justly renowned and honored as that of John Gilbert. I cannot liope adequately to respond to the personal sentiments which have been so graciously expressed nor adequately celebrate the deeds and the virtues of your distinguished guest. “I am ill at these numbers
but such answer as I can make you shall command.” For since first I became familiar with the stage—in far-away days in old Boston, John Gilbert has been to me the fulfilment of one of my highest ideals of excellence in the dramatic art; and it would be hard if I could not now say this, if not with eloquence at least with fervor.
I am aware of a certain strangeness, however, in the thought that words in his presence and to his honor should be spoken by me. The freaks of time and fortune are indeed strange.
I cannot but remember that when John Gilbert was yet in the full flush of his young manhood and already crowned with the laurels of success the friend who is now speaking was a boy at his sports-playing around the old Federal Street Theatre, and beneath the walls of the Franklin Street Cathedral, and hearing upon the broad causeways of Pearl Street the rustle and patter of the autumn